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560Receiving grace in vain

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  • David
    Oct 13, 2013
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      2 Cor 6:1-10


      “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive
      not the grace of God in vain.� This appears to be a surprising statement
      for how could the grace of God be “in vain� or without effect? Is there
      something that could ruin the power of GodÂ’s grace or is there some way
      in which it could be nullified? Is not God all-powerful and therefore
      His grace able to overcome every obstacle? And yet the Apostle expresses
      his concern that this same grace once given could be received in vain.
      What is it that could prevent the grace of God from having an effect on
      those to whom it is given?


      The answer to this seeming contradiction is quite simple. God has given
      to us free will – that is, He has given to us the ability to choose our
      actions. We are not automatons such that all of our choices are
      pre-programed and pre-determined. We do not live in the inexorable grip
      of fate, subject to its whims. We have been given the ability to choose
      how we will respond to the conditions of our lives and to determine the
      course of our own lives based on those choices. Among the many gifts
      that God gives to us in this life, He offers to us His grace that it
      might heal us and transform us, perfecting His image in us into His
      likeness that we might fulfill our destiny to live in union and
      communion with Him. However, that grace is not magic, it does not act
      upon us without our cooperation. We can and indeed we must choose how to
      respond to this great gift and how we will use it. If we neglect this
      great gift or misuse it, then by our own choice we nullify its power and
      in that way we have received it in vain. The apostle therefore prays for
      us that this grace is not received by us in vain, but that it might have
      its full effect in us. He prays for us, that we might make the right
      choices about how to use this grace and that we might choose to
      cooperate with its effect in us.


      The first way that we can receive this grace “in vain� is by simply
      ignoring it or neglecting it. Our Lord told a parable of the sower and
      the seed and starts out by describing how some of the seed falls upon
      the hard ground and there lies exposed and is quickly eaten up by the
      birds. So it is with those who ignore the grace that is offered to them
      – it falls on the hard ground of their hearts and before it can have an
      effect, it is quickly swept away by the demons lest it begin to grow and
      soften the heart of the person. There are many in this world who simply
      ignore their spiritual well being or who pursue the wrong spiritual path
      and for them the grace of God is of no effect for it is swept up by the
      enemy of mankind who seeks to keep us from the power of God by a variety
      of means. For some it is pride that they donÂ’t need God or the Church
      and can live this life all on their own. For others it is deceit, having
      fallen into a false path and living according to a faith that leads
      ultimately away from the Truth. But it is not to these that the Apostle
      is writing for he is writing to those who are within the Church, who
      have heard the Word of God and who have reached out to embrace it. He is
      writing to His spiritual children who have at least embraced this grace
      and not ignored it. How is it that they might have embraced the grace of
      God “in vain�?


      It is not enough simply to possess or embrace the gift of God for having
      received the gift, one must then use the gift. There is a saying that
      you can lead a horse to water, but you canÂ’t make him drink. God gives
      us His grace and having received that gift, we now possess it – but it
      is still up to us to actually use that gift. God pours out His living
      water upon us, but, because He has given us free will, does not make us
      drink – He leaves choice up to us. We can, therefore, neglect the grace
      of God which we have received, not making use of it. We have received
      the grace of Baptism and Chrismation; we have entered into the life of
      the Church; but we must still live that life. Too often there are those
      who place their hope simply on having found the true faith and having
      embraced it – but they do not practice it. For them it is enough just to
      be in the “right Church�, to have been issued their membership card. But
      they do not attend the services, they do not receive the sacraments,
      they do not fast, they do not pray, they order their lives according to
      their own desires. These people do in fact neglect the grace of God. Now
      many of us donÂ’t carry our neglect to such extremes, but we do neglect
      the grace of God in lesser ways. We may bring our bodies to the services
      – but we come late and having arrived we don’t listen to the service
      letting it drift off above our heads or go in one ear and out the other.
      We donÂ’t pray in the service, but let our minds wander here and there
      pondering over our problems or plans, replaying last nightÂ’s party or
      game or entertainment. Or perhaps we do pray – sometimes. Most of the
      time we get along on our own, but once in a while we come face to face
      with a problem we canÂ’t handle and so we decide that maybe God can help
      and so we pray. Once the problem is passed, however, we stop praying and
      start doing things on our own again. Or perhaps we come to the services
      of the Church but never receive the Sacraments (or perhaps only do so
      once a year or once in a lifetime). It takes time to prepare and so we
      settle for just watching others as they receive this blessing. Or
      perhaps we consider all this fasting and feasting to be just a nuisance
      – after all what we eat doesn’t really affect the soul does it? – and so
      we neglect the grace given to us through this labor. In this way we
      neglect the grace that God gives to us and simply let it lie there,
      being content in merely possessing it, but making no use of it.


      Another way in which the grace of God is made ineffective in us is by
      misusing it. When a tool is misused, then the full value of its effect
      is lost and more often than not we cause damage that could have been
      avoided by using the tool correctly. If you try to drive a screw with a
      hammer or use a sharp knife to pry open a lid or use the oven as a
      storage cupboard, you lose the effect of that tool (the screw hammered
      in does not hold because it is stripped by the force of the blow and one
      cannot bake in an oven that is full of other stuff) and end up with the
      possibility of causing more damage (if the knife slips or the oven is
      inadvertently turned on). We often do the same thing, misusing the grace
      of God. We pray, but we pray with a distracted mind and heart – saying
      the words with the mouth, but letting our mind wander assessing the
      cares of the day or planning what we will do next. We receive the
      sacraments, but we do not really prepare for them – we do not examine
      ourselves before approaching for confession and thus end up making an
      incomplete confession or we set aside or abbreviate the prayer rule for
      Holy Communion, thus receiving unprepared or unworthily. In the prayer
      before Confession, the priest reminds the penitent, “do not be ashamed
      or afraid and do not conceal anything Â… tell all that you have done that
      you may receive forgiveness Â… if you hide anything, you will have the
      greater sin, take heed therefore that having approached the Great
      Physician you go away unhealed.� and The Apostle writes about those who
      have become ill and even died because they approached the Mysteries and
      received them unworthily. Surely this seems to be an extreme situation,
      but still, when we do not prepare and receive unworthily, we place
      ourselves in that same position. We do keep the fast (sort of), but do
      so poorly and without attention often forgetting to fast, or making
      excuses for eating a little extra or relaxing the fast, or only fasting
      when it is convenient. All of these things compromise the grace that we
      receive.


      Sometimes we misuse the grace of God by going to extremes. We fast when
      there is no need to do so, or even when it is prohibited by the Church
      tradition, thinking that if a little is good, then`` a lot is better. In
      fact when you do this, you wear yourself out unnecessarily, exhausting
      yourself for the greater struggles that will come later. Or perhaps,
      having been strict with yourself in the fast, you decide that you will
      now make sure that everyone around you is also strict and so the fast
      becomes no longer a tool of self-denial, but a club with which to beat
      others. IÂ’m sure that these are only a few of the ways that come to mind
      when we consider how we misuse the grace of God.


      Because we are all so vulnerable to these dangers which annul the effect
      of GodÂ’s grace in us, the Apostle finds it important to pray for us so
      that we do not receive this grace in vain, but rather that we might make
      profitable use of the grace of God for our salvation. This also is one
      of the great benefits of GodÂ’s grace for it is designed to help us and
      strengthen us even when we make that slightest effort in good faith. We
      may not be strong enough – in fact none of us are strong enough – to
      consistently use the gift of GodÂ’s grace. However, once we begin to make
      the effort, that same grace strengthens us and we are made able to
      follow through by the very grace which we strive to use in the first
      place. But the grace of God is not self-acting; it requires our effort,
      our cooperation, our active engagement. Let us then seek to fulfill the
      hope of the Apostle for us that we do not receive the grace of God in
      vain, and from this very moment to cease neglecting it and misusing it
      and begin to cooperate fully with the action of that grace in us. In
      this way the image of God in us is perfected and we are transformed into
      the likeness of God and brought into union and communion with Him.


      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org